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Coronavirus Culture and creativity

The Long Lost Year: Creative reflections on loss and hope

As The Long Lost Year project comes to a close, The Loss Project’s Steph Turner looks back at the moving and powerful contributions made by Big Local residents – and shares how we can all continue to use the project’s creative resources in the future.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, we’ve all had to learn to live alongside experiences of loss – from loss of connection, loss of a sense of purpose or achievement, to loss of loved ones, loss of jobs, or loss of rites of passage like graduations or school prom.

There have also been things we’ve been happy to let go of, as well as things we’ve gained.

Postcards from The Long Lost Year at Big Local Connects

Between August and October 2021, Local Trust teamed up with The Loss Project and RIOT SOUP to offer different spaces for residents in Big Local areas to reflect, honour and share their own stories of loss, to see how creativity can help us process our experiences, as well as opportunities to grow confidence in conversations about loss, grief and looking forwards.

Artists from The Loss Project, RIOT SOUP, Gaunless Gateway Big Local, North Cleethorpes Big Local, William Morris Big Local, Creative Civic Change and Broad Green Big Local collaborated on the project, through 16 in-person and online art-based workshops, as well as an exhibition and workshops led by RIOT SOUP and The Loss Project at the Big Local Connects event in October 2021.

We heard powerful and moving stories from different people candidly sharing the losses they’ve held during the pandemic, the changes they’ve experienced, and where they’ve been able to find hope.

The Long Lost Year exhibition at Connects
(Local Trust/Harriet Marsden)

A space to reflect

Many people who took part in The Long Lost Year shared some of their darkest moments during the pandemic and lockdowns, but also how cathartic it was to be able to express them visually or through other creative means like poetry, as well as the value of having a dedicated space to reflect on their experiences.

“Before we just went with the flow, following the plan, not always forward thinking … But during this dark time we have found we are reactive, changeable and have come together to help and support each other. Many have been changed forever but now … We have renewed hope; re-focussed and renewed and made new connections!” – Vander, Horsefair, Broadwaters and Greenhill Big Local DY10

Before I kept my thoughts to myself. Now I can go and talk to people. We could do our own little session and continue this after the project.” – Workshop participant, Broad Green Big Local

“I learnt to express my thoughts and feelings using drawing, writing and colouring. It was nice to come out of the house. It was something to do in the community.” – Workshop participant, William Morris Big Local

Creativity can offer great tools to help us unlock how we feel, find meaning in our experiences and provide some respite from having to find the language to describe our feelings of grief and loss.

“I found myself much more relaxed and confident about opening up during the process as it wasn’t the loss itself I was talking about, it was the artwork, a tangible object, created from that loss that I was describing and the method and reason behind creating it that I was opening up about.”– Workshop participant

Sharing experiences of social isolation

A common thread for people who joined the project was the challenge of social isolation during lockdown:

Artwork from the Long Lost Year project

“This is how I felt during lockdown, feeling down, locked in, caged up. Missing friends and family and socialising. Spending too much time watching the news, how many new cases, how many deaths and always on my phone. Depression | Anger | Lonely | No Way Out.” – Workshop participant, Connects

It was so difficult to see people, but a group of friends would always meet in the park – even if it was freezing cold. It was good to be able to see each other in real life, not just on Zoom.” – Hermida, W12 Together


Artwork from The Long Lost Year project

“When you lose touch with people – that’s what the picture’s about. When people are all out of sync.” – Jonathan, Broad Green Big Local

Building a sense of community

Having spaces for people to share their experiences through art also offers the chance to build a deeper sense of community, something many people have missed.

Despite the fact we all work together we hadn’t really had a conversation about Lockdown/Covid or its impacts on us. The workshop gave us a chance to talk about our different experiences of it – under the same sky but weathering different storms.” – Sarah, artist and workshop facilitator, Big Local North Cleethorpes

Richard, from Broad Green Big Local, shared his experience of bringing The Long Lost Year project to their hub and how it built a sense of connection between the group:

“We created some drawing and painting sessions at the Broad Green Hub as part of the project. We wanted to bring the project to our area as a legacy reminder; a statement to what happened in the pandemic and something to stand the test of time.

“We learnt that the pandemic felt like being under house arrest for many of us. We were sitting around [and it was] making us think about life itself. We learnt about ourselves in isolation. Doing something like this is a way of getting to know someone better. They know you through your art.”

Members of the group also shared their appreciation of the connection between them:

Our favourite thing about the workshops was the company and banter and getting our minds off life’s troubles.”

Time to remember and honour

For many, taking time to remember and honour people who died during the pandemic was important. Our ways of memorialising people, and the rituals we have to mark the lives of people we loved, were disrupted during the pandemic.

At a time when we were faced with our own mortality, it also brought back many memories of bereavements from the past.

“This artwork is based on the time lost, with my Dad, in nursing care. During the lockdowns, I documented my Dad’s memories, (over garden fences/in pods and on phone calls where possible), to create a book for him, of his story.” Tracey, Gaunless Gateway Big Local

Artwork from The Long Lost Year project

“My Mum passed away on 6th November 2019. My Dad passed away on 19th January 2021. The picture represents the loss that any one of us can experience.” – Workshop participant, Connects

It made me feel good to open up to the loss of my close friend, who was my soulmate.” – Workshop participant

People also shared the new ways they’d found to grieve and to be with their pain:

“That’s how I deal with loss painting and listening to music. It’s a way of grieving and there are groups but this is another outlet. The way I look at life … it’s what suits me.” – Sedley, Broad Green Big Local

“I learnt that we can just hold on to all the memories of the ones we love and miss in our hearts.” – Workshop participant

We also heard from people who have had to navigate health and social care services, and how they felt they lost out on the kind of support or opportunities that might have been available to them before the pandemic:

Artwork from The Long Lost Year project

“My lost year was due to another C not coronavirus although for obvious reasons it made a diagnosis and hospitalisation even more challenging. Following emergency admission in September to hospital, blood transfusions, five theatre trips, CT scans, MRI scans and 20% weight loss I was diagnosed with Crohn’s. Up until this point I luckily was fit and well. Never had days off sick.

“Coronavirus made the diagnosis difficult and being so unwell I had to find strength to battle in hospital to get information, pain control and someone to listen. They were short staffed because of the other C and also fearful that initially I had coronavirus sending me home to get tested. Missed opportunities! It took a second referral to begin my road to recovery.” – Cheryl, Big Local North Cleethorpes (for more information, visit Crohn’s and Colitis UK).

Artwork from The Long Lost Year project

“The artwork was relating to a personal experience during lockdown where I had been impacted with the loss of a close family member and how my surviving relative of the nearly 40 years of an inseparable blissfully happy married life has been challenged further due to Covid-19.

“This cruel virus separated a devoted couple after a sudden illness and death within a short time frame. The ripple effect of the loss on the one left behind and the immediate family is pressured by services inaccessible and the pandemic playing an extra part in adding intense pressure to an already life changing grief which is immeasurable.” – Susan, Gaunless Gateway Big Local

I realised my grief expressed itself differently on the paper than it felt in the experience.” – Workshop participant

Supporting young people

We know the pandemic has also had a huge impact on young people. When we started The Long Lost Year project, we spoke with members who wanted to find ways to support young people in their area.

William Morris Big Local chose to focus their in-person workshops on an estate where they knew there were lots of families:

“We offered three workshops across different days and times to be able to meet as many residents as possible. We were able to hire the community centre building onsite and advertised the sessions in the context of art and mental health and processing our difficulties of the Long Lost Year in lockdown. We worked with an artist who was also a pastor and activist.” – Chrys, Chair, William Morris Big Local

Artwork from The Long Lost Year project

“This picture is how life was before Lockdown for my now 7 year old son and what he wants life to go back to being normal… He says this picture is about sunshine and life getting back to normal and being together.” – Workshop participant, William Morris Big Local

Living through change

These final stories and images capture the essence that we’ve lived through something that has changed us; a bittersweet reminder of our long lost year. What we’ve lost but also where we found hope.

Artwork from The Long Lost Year project

“Our lives are stitched together almost like clothes and I feel like Covid broke through and ripped the stitches to give us new fun activities or horrible hard losses, like the loss of my Dad’s best friend. It really ripped us apart and changed us. My motto is: ‘You don’t always have to be strong, sad works as well.’” – Workshop participant, Connects

Artwork from The Long Lost Year project

“Either hand can be then or now. Things are the same but feel very different. The eye is a tear of sadness but also of happiness … life is to be continued.” – Workshop participant, Connects

Artwork from The Long Lost Year project

“One of the biggest losses for me was my freedom to hop on a tram or train for a day out or break. This tree represents the nature that sustained me during the pandemic. I walked around my local park every day. The little bird represents the freedom I wish I had to fly off to destinations, and that I am still wishing for.” – Adel, Big Local Oldham

Never Lose Your Sense of Wonder

Planting seeds, and seeing if anything grows
Slow the world down – notice the wild flowers, the leaves, the berries, the colours.
Watch the birds and listen to their song, their games, their behaviour.
Listen to the lyrics…
Touch and stroke your pets
Taste your food, try new foods.
Smell the air, the grass, the rain.

– Workshop participant, Connects


Gallery: our long lost year

Creative resources for reflecting and moving forwards

If others were interested in running a similar workshop, I’d say go for it! Everyone is creative in some way, and most people are surprised by what they manage to create, given the opportunity.” – Workshop participant, William Morris Big Local

Our creative resources are available to watch and download, enabling you to bring art-based experiences, reflecting on grief and loss, to meetings and group sessions in your local area.

You’ll find creative workshops to run in groups, exercises you can do individually, and ideas on how to set up your own Long Lost Year exhibition.

There’s also support on how to have conversations about grief and loss, how to take care of yourself when supporting others, as well as national organisations you can signpost people towards.

Have a look at The Long Lost Year resource pack, zine and our YouTube playlist to get started.

About the author
Steph Turner

Steph is an artist, creative facilitator and co-director of The Loss Project.

The Loss Project aims to generate a community response to loss by connecting people in local communities through their experiences of grief, loss and trauma, in whatever form they come in. Our mission is to challenge the stigma and taboo around loss, cutting through the barriers of difficult conversations and subjects that can often remain unspoken. Through training, workshops, and bespoke creative community programmes, we aim to support communities to become more open and connected.

RIOT SOUP is a collective made up of Black and Brown women artists in London whose general aim is to champion the visibility and voices of women artists “of colour” in the UK. Through exhibitions, workshops and talks, our creative sisterhood strives to open up discussion to the issues that surround us most as people of colour, women and artists.